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Obama jobs bill includes spectrum auctions

The proposal uses incentive auctions to finance a nationwide public safety network

New legislation pushed by U.S. President Barack Obama and intended to stimulate job growth includes proposals for mobile spectrum auctions and for a nationwide mobile broadband network for emergency responders.

Obama's American Jobs Act, released late Monday, would allow the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to conduct so-called incentive auctions, in which the agency would share the proceeds of a spectrum auction with television stations that voluntarily give up their spectrum.

The legislation would use some of the money from incentive auctions, US$6.5 billion, to fund a nationwide voice and data network for police, fire departments and other emergency responders. Lawmakers and other groups have called for a nationwide public safety network since emergency responders had trouble communicating with each other during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks on the U.S.

Obama's plan would allocate the so-called D block, a 10MHz band of spectrum in the 700MHz band, to a public safety organization created by the legislation. Congress originally designated the D block for a shared public safety and commercial network, but the spectrum failed to sell during an FCC auction in early 2008.

Incentive auctions and a public safety network were also part of an Obama mobile broadband plan released in February.

The American Jobs Act includes several other provisions not related to broadband. The bill includes a tax cut for small businesses, funds for states to hire teachers, funds for repairing bridges, roads and schools and an extension of unemployment benefits. Obama would pay for the bill through the elimination of some corporate tax exemptions and an increase in taxes for high-income U.S. residents.

"To create jobs, I am submitting the American Jobs Act of 2011 -- nearly all of which is made up of the kinds of proposals supported by both Republicans and Democrats, and that the Congress should pass right away to get the economy moving now," he said in a letter to Congress. "The purpose of the American Jobs Act of 2011 is simple: put more people back to work and put more money in the pockets of working Americans."

The Obama proposal would require the FCC to collect new spectrum user fees of $200 million in 2012, rising to $550 million in 2015. The bill would also establish a $1 billion spectrum auction relocation fund for federal agencies that move operations from mobile spectrum targeted to be auctioned for mobile broadband uses.

Some Republicans in Congress sounded skeptical about parts of the Obama plan. Representative Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican and House majority leader, has compared the proposal to the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which didn't cut the U.S. unemployment rate as much as the Obama administration had hoped.

"Way back when the stimulus debate began in January 2009, we all opposed the stimulus program because we felt that spending borrowed money was not going to be the answer," Cantor said last week. "Instead, we thought we should make it easier for the private sector to grow. Well, here we are again having the same discussion, after we've seen the nearly $800 billion stimulus bill fail in terms of reaching the results that were promised."

Congressional Republicans may be open to parts of Obama's proposal, including tax cuts for small businesses, Cantor said.

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said he will send Obama's bill to the Congressional Budget Office to check its cost. Obama has said the expenses in the bill would be offset by tax increases.

"The record of the economic proposals enacted during the last Congress necessitates careful examination of the president's latest plan as well as consideration of alternative measures that may more effectively support private-sector job creation," Boehner said Monday. "It is my hope that we will be able to work together to put in place the best ideas of both parties and help put Americans back to work."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is [email protected]


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